“Politicization” Doesn’t Mean What Max Read Thinks It Means

Max Read at Gawker says,

There is no such thing as “politicizing” tragedy. James Holmes did not materialize in a movie theater in Aurora this morning, free of any relationship to law and authority and the structures of power in this country; nor did he exit those relationships and structures by murdering 12 people and injuring several dozen more. Before he entered the theater, he purchased guns, whether legally or illegally, under a framework of laws and regulations governed and negotiated by politics; in the parking lot outside, he was arrested by a police force whose salaries, equipment, tactics and rights were shaped and determined by politics. Holmes’ ability to seek, or to not seek, mental health care; the government’s ability, or inability, to lock up persons deemed unstable — these are things decided and directed by politics. You cannot “politicize” a tragedy because the tragedy is already political. When you talk about the tragedy you’re already talking about politics.

There are many fine points here, but I disagree on what “politicization” means, and I bet you do too. I think when people say you’ve “politicized” something, they mean you’re being a jerk. And, in general, they’re right. I mean, how often do we associate “politicization” or “politics” with polite, compassionate, and kind discourse? If you can say it to your mom, it’s probably not “politicized.” If you relish saying it to your ideological foil, it probably is. We all know the difference.

[Cross-posted at The Incidental Economist]

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Austin Frakt

Austin Frakt is a health economist and an assistant professor at Boston University's School of Medicine and School of Public Health. He blogs at The Incidental Economist.